WebMD Medical News
Daniel J. DeNoon
Laura J. Martin, MD
July 10, 2010 -- The H1N1 swine flu pandemic is over, the World Health Organization declared today.
The world has now entered the "post-pandemic period" in which the H1N1 virus has begun acting like -- and circulating with -- other flu bugs.
"The new H1N1 virus has largely run its course," WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, MD, said at a news teleconference. Her decision follows the advice of the WHO's Emergency Committee, which met this morning.
In the U.S., the pandemic emergency declaration expired June 23. But before officially ending the pandemic, the WHO waited to see what the winter flu season would look like in the Southern Hemisphere and whether there would be unusual summer swine flu outbreaks in the Northern Hemisphere.
That wait is over. The WHO ended the pandemic because:
According to the CDC, the WHO declaration will change nothing except the ending of weekly reports to international health agencies. The U.S. already is going ahead with plans to treat the H1N1 swine flu virus as part of future flu seasons.
The end of the pandemic does not mean that H1N1 swine flu has gone away. It's likely that the virus still poses a risk to pregnant women and infants. It's not yet clear whether older children and young adults will continue to be at highest risk of severe H1N1 disease.
And because flu can be a serious disease, the WHO and the CDC recommend getting the seasonal flu vaccine. The vaccine for the 2010-2011 season includes the H1N1 swine flu virus, as well as the type A H3N2 and type B viruses.
Children aged 6 months to 8 years who have not been vaccinated against H1N1 will need two doses of the new seasonal vaccine, given at least four weeks apart.
Compared to the doomsday scenario of a highly lethal mutant flu bug, the H1N1 swine flu pandemic was mild.
"This time around, we have been aided by pure good luck," Chan said. "This pandemic has turned out to be much more fortunate than what we feared a little over a year ago."
Chan said the pandemic wasn't as bad as feared because:
"Had things gone wrong in any of these areas, we would be in a very different situation today," Chan said.
SOURCES:WHO web site.CDC, email communication.CDC, Recommendations for the Prevention and Control of Influenza with Vaccines, July 29, 2010.
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